Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Racing a Volvo 60

Just after 7 am on Monday was waiting at the Red Funnel terminal at Southampton, hungry and sleepy having had just a coffee for breakfast. Looking around could see wall to wall Henry Lloyd and Musto, men and women with shorts and red cheeks blasted by the sun. It was time to go sailing. It was time for Cowes week.

I've never done Cowes week before and not sure I can say I've done it now - just visited. There are so many classes and so many races over so many days. But I've got a flavour of being at the centre of British - or even world - sailing, with thousands of boats and their crews rubbing elbows in the bars and hospitality tents.

I'd signed up for a Rock up and Race day with On Deck Sailing who had chartered Pindar's Volvo 60 for the day. We were taken out in a RIB and loaned the oilies and shown the ropes.

While huge and impressive, the slightly reassuring thing about Volvo 60's is how much is familiar - main sheet, winches, halyards, jib & spinnaker sheets, trimming... - though of course with much greater loading (though of course have sailed her before).

We were given the crewing roles and during the day I had a go at grinding, jib sheets, spinnaker sheets, spinnaker trimming, spinnaker packing, and a spot of helming. Oh, and a lot of sitting on the side admiring the view.

It was very enjoyable, even if we could see the competition sail over the horizon. The TP52s were, as Yachting World put it, smoking, as was the maxi Alegre (below)

The day started sunny with about 20 knots of wind but strengthened to 30 with nasty wind against tide, and in the afternoon we didn't fly the kite and talked about reefing. There were some interesting "experiences" such as the unintentioned heave-to, and one of the jib sheets getting caught and shredding in seconds. Both times the lee rail left was deap underwater, crew members caught there wet to the waist.

One of the crew works for a local radio station and rang in a story of her experiences only to be slammed in the head by the hatch being closed by a crew member halfway through. A true trooper her only regret was that it wasn't live as her cries of pain and complaints would have made great radio.

Other boats were less happy. Around us we could see broaches, broken masts, torn sails, and there are stories of worse.We got through ok - at one point hitting 15 knots. The fastest I helmed her was about 13.5 knots (the instruments needed recalibrating so its hard to be accurate).

But we got that cool feeling of leaving almost all of the boats in our wake, powering through a fleet of Sunfast 37s with ease.

Afterwards we sipped champaigne and re-lived the best bits of the day. We all agreed it had been a great experience - and that is what life is all about. To try out all that life can offer, and that day we got a feel for life on these great ocean racers.

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